There’s a long-standing argument that a microgeneration exists between what is traditionally considered Generation X and Generation Y, the latter of which is more affectionately known as millennials. The crux of the argument is that a certain segment of the population — namely, people born between 1977 and 1983 — had an analog childhood (like Gen-Xers) and a digital adulthood (like millennials). As such, their prevailing worldview widely differs from the two demographics they’re sandwiched between.

Yet in the popular discussion about these classifications, members of this in-between cohort are typically lumped in with one of the two larger groups — encompassing either the tail end of Gen X or those considered the very first members of Gen Y. If you are born in the early '80s, you are effectively thought to be a millennial, even if your approach to finance and technology deviates from the bigger group.

I’ve followed this argument for a while because I’m a part of this microgeneration that are increasingly referred to as "xennials." I’ve long felt out of stride with the millennial cohort that conventional wisdom has placed me in — and it recently struck me that the way I bank perfectly illustrates the divide.

If you are born in the early '80s, you are effectively thought to be a millennial, even if your approach to finance and technology deviates from the bigger group. No wonder banks struggle to woo such a large demographic. Adobe Stock

Take fintech, for instance. As much as I love following the industry, I really don’t use anything that comes out of it. I’ve dabbled in budgeting apps and mobile wallets, but I’ve never made it much further than the “download to my phone” phase. And there are certain apps out there — I shall leave unnamed, though they’re largely of the nonbank variety — that absolutely terrify me. (Seriously, I’m afraid to even search for them in an app store. No hyperbole intended.)

I bank online because it is convenient. And recently, I started using remote deposit capture, which I guess is technically fintech. I only recently became a convert. I was slow to adopt the feature even though I’ve had my bank’s app — and therefore the capability — on my phone for years. I love remote deposit capture. Before, I just wanted to cash checks with a person, you know?

Still, right now, remote deposit capture is about as fancy as my digital banking gets.

Contrast this with how my younger colleague, Colin Lalley, a true millennial, banks and, well, it’s a whole different story. You can read about all his money management preferences here, but his banking habits basically boil down to apps, apps and more apps — and, yes, there are a lot of nonbanks and personal financial management apps involved. (Anyone who remembers me from my days as a full-time American Banker staffer might recall that I am aggressively uninterested in PFMs.)

Want more contrast? Colin’s particularly fond of Venmo. And in a bit of encouraging news for traditional banks, he’s also excited about Zelle. I only know what Zelle is because he told me about it, though I have since noticed I can use the Venmo competitor through my bank’s app.

I might use it, too — and here’s why. I pretty much have all of my financial accounts, including my investments and credit cards, with one financial institution. (Yes, it’s a big bank. Feel free to chastise me in the comments section.) That choice is probably shortsighted. I’m acutely aware of the fact that I’m missing out on competitive interest rates, particularly when we’re talking about savings accounts. But it’s also convenient and, for better or worse, it means I trust my institution when it comes to something I wouldn’t use otherwise — in this case, peer-to-peer payments.

Colin, in contrast, is more diversified. He cites at least three financial institutions he has accounts with — all three notably short on physical branches. Meanwhile, one of the reasons I chose my big bank overlord is because it has a ton of branches. And just last month, I went into a branch twice. One visit was to cash a check that wouldn’t clear through remote deposit capture.

I bring all these preferences up because they provide some valuable insight into why millennials — and here I mean the larger Gen Y cohort that includes some xennials too — are such a tough nut for banks to crack. On the question of how to acquire millennials as customers, pundits often point to the need for banks to overcome distrust sown by the financial crisis. Sure, that influences how a large chunk of this coveted generation banks, particularly when we’re talking about the big financial institutions. It’s hard to argue with stats like “71% of millennials would rather go to the dentist than listen to what a bank is saying.” (Thanks, Millennial Disruption Index!)

But distrust isn’t the only factor at play here. In fact, I’d wager it’s not even the primary one. Really, a big part of the reason banks find it tricky to attract millennials is because, well, not all millennials are attracted to the same thing. It’s a giant demographic, xennials notwithstanding. And the big winner at the end of the day won’t be some niche disruptor, but instead, a bank that pulls off a very careful balancing act.

Jeanine Skowronski

Jeanine Skowronski

Jeanine Skowronski is currently the senior editor of personal finance for PolicyGenius, a fintech insurance startup. She formerly worked for American Banker as deputy editor of BankThink.

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